A brush with California’s volcanic and glacial past

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

There’s a state on the west coast of the United States that’s known for its beaches, its wine country, it’s Pacific Coast drives, it’s entertainment capital, even its history of earthquakes. What a lot of people don’t talk about is that California has had many a brush with volcanic activity too and continues to be active on this front. One place to learn about it, is Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Lassen Volcanic National Park graces a place called Mineral, California and lies on the Northern part of the state. If you go in the winter you might see a large portion of this place blanketed in snow, so much so that you might think you were fooled into believing about boiling hot volcanic activity. Wait till it is summer and you will see what happened to all that snow that covered the area in the winter and spring months.

What is now Lassen Volcanic National Park was once the seat of a humongous volcano that was called Brokeoff Volcano or Mount Tehama. This grand volcano was supposed to have continuously erupted for around 200,000 years. Then some 400,000 years ago, the volcanic activity in it just died down, according to the experts. Since then this area has seen several other smaller volcanoes and some massive glaciers. The hydro-thermal activity and the glacial erosion that took place later is said to have displaced a good part of the big mountain. What is left today is a number of peaks where the outer ring of that huge volcano used to be.

 Today, this national park is a showcase of what centuries of volcanic and glacial activity can do to a piece of land.

We decided to do an auto-tour of Lassen Volcanic National Park the August-before-last and one of the first few points of interest we stopped at was Sulphur Works where we got to see steaming hot mudpots. This is proof enough of the character of the place.

Mud Pot, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
A mud pot with some boiling mud – water. The steam arising from it is testimony to the heat of the mudpot.

What happens at a Mud Pot:

The snow-melt and the rainwater of the area seeps into the lower layers of the earth and comes in contact with the hot rocks and trapped hot gases of the volcanic vents a few miles below. That water gets all heated up and bubbles away like this. And the proof of how chemically rich it is, is in the smell. This place reeks of rotten egg and I must say it’s no place for someone who is in the first trimester of pregnancy or one who has just gotten past that 12-week mark (that was where I was, then).

Bubbling mud pot, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Look carefully and you will see that that water is bubbling hot.

That and the hot summer temperatures stopped us from doing the hikes that would take us deeper into California’s Volcanic history. However the many stops on the auto tour taught us a lot bout the geological and glacial past of this area.

What to see at Lassen Volcanic Park:

Diamond Peak

Diamond Peak. Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Diamond Peak

This Diamond volcano got its name from the quartz found here. Diamond Peak can be seen from several parts of the drive.

Lassen Peak

Mt. Lassen, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lassen Peak – the peak after which this Volcanic Park is named.

The Lassen Peak was born out of those volcanoes that succeeded the Brokeoff Volcano.  It is considered to be one of biggest volcanic domes that was formed by viscous lava that was gradually squeezed out the volcano. Although it is not as big as the original Brokeoff Volcano it is one of the biggest ones in the area and one of active volcanoes of the Cascade Range.
(Coming soon on Tipsy from the trip is more about the other well-known volcanoes of the same range but lying in states of Oregon and Washington. Do come back 🙂 )

Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Emerald Lake and Ski Heil Peak

Emerald Lake, called so because of its colour was carved out by glacial activity. This lake seemed pretty shallow.

The Overlook (near the Bumpass Hell Trail)

Bumpass Hell is a valley here that has several boiling pools but to get there one has to hike and since hiking was not something we could do that day, we stopped at parking lot near the trail and made the most of the vista at the overlook there.

The over look near Bumpass Trail, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The boulder at the edge of the cliff is believed to have been put there by glaciers.

Lake Helen

Lake Helen, Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Lake Helen shimmering in the afternoon sun (and a part of Lassen Peak).

Lake Helen is also one of those lakes formed by a glacier. This one is deeper and bluer than Emerald Lake, that lies south of it.

Lassen Peak from its NE side

Mt. Lassen, Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Manzanita Lake

Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park.

I hope to visit Lassen Volcanic Park once again and do some hiking to the points that promise to treat me to more unique sights like views from some of these volcanic mountains, hot springs and fumaroles.

The Drive

  • The auto-tour is a 30 mile drive
  • Our drive started at the southwestern part of the National park and went northwards
  • If you would like to keep track of the points on the way, you could pick up a guide from the Visitor Centre. It costs around $6.
  • If your drive starts at the south entrance and you have plans to stay someplace near this national park, it would be a good idea to look for a hotel closer to the northern end of the park.
  • Make sure you have enough gas for the drive. There are no gas stations within the park.
  • If you are not carrying any food, you might want to pick up some at cafe at the southwestern part of the park.
The History of Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Some more information, straight from one of the park’s info. boards.
You might also like:
–> A volcano-tour through Volcanic National park, Hawaii
Coming soon:  Petrified Forest


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  1. This is new, haven't heard of it. Looks good for a short trip.

  2. Getting so close to a volcano… I would have my heart in my hand… great shots.

    • I think I've gotten closer than this to volcanoes. I got to go upto a few meters away from one of the most active volcanoes in the world in HI. Better still, I got to walk through a lava tube. I feel so fortunate. I'm just so fascinated by volcanic activity.

      Thanks a ton, Indrani.

  3. Apart from a nifty travelogue, that was a lesson in geology and middle earth too. Your pieces are getting incisive day after day. Those are beautiful images; perhaps my favourite is the lake at the bottom.

    • Coming from you, that is a big compliment.
      Volcanoes, landforms and natural phenomenons like this fascinate me no end. There's more coming. 🙂

      Thank you so much, USP. Always nice to hear what you think, especially about the photographs.

  4. Quite an interesting place. Nice to know about these volcanoes. I can imagine a beaming geologist. 🙂

    • It is.
      You know how much like geological destinations. 🙂

      My very first visit to a Volcanic park was what affected me most. I was filled with awe; never knowing that I would get to see what I once learnt in my geography books. I felt so fortunate being where such powerful phenomenons has taken place and were still kind-of happening. 🙂

  5. I have never been remotely close to a volcano, so these pictures transport me to a kind of fairyland! Wonderful part of mother nature!

  6. Whoa! Beautiful, I'm so jealous of you right now. The pics are wallpaper worthy shots, really!

    • Thank you so much, Shruti. I'm glad you like the pictures. I have more 'volcano pictures' coming up 😉

      I went through your Phi Phi post and I was kind of envious that you got to see all those cliffs. And you got to see a cave that is now closed to pubic? Thank you for the pictures.

      Welcome here. I hope you'll come again.

  7. Lovely landscapes and I particularly liked the Lake Helen photograph! Well done!

  8. right i am coming over and you are taking me to this place ALSO.. (what you think i forgot about the other places naaaaaaa ) 🙂

    beautiful clickssssssssss


    • Bikram…come. (Only that I am in the motherland as I write this)
      Yeah, please come, I'll take you to some great places.

      No I don't think you forgot. That's why — when you said you were thinking of travelling faaaaar this year– I was asking you to make that a US-trip. 🙂
      You think I forgot all your comments on my blog? Naaaaa! 😀

      Thanks a ton, Bik. Have a great weekend. 🙂

  9. Awesome post and amazing pics… !

  10. Looks so scenic though you lens!

  11. Looks like a great place to visit. The images are breathtaking !

  12. Good one Gundu. Beautiful pics and so do the write ups.

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